Notes from Nepal: Restoring Nepal’s stolen sculptures

Rabindra Puri is on a quest of restoring Nepal’s stolen sculptures. But instead of bringing them back to Nepal, he is replicating the sculptures.

Thousands of Nepal’s traditional artwork, including sculptures dating back to centuries, have been smuggled to foreign countries.

Along with nine other artists, Puri, recognized for his restoration of Namuma Ghar, the model house, in Bhaktapur, is now on a mission to create replicas of about 50 stolen sculptures. They will be a part of the Museum of Stolen Art, which Puri says will be ready in two years. The museum will be in the historic town of Panauti, about 30 kilometers southeast of the capital Kathmandu..

It took Puri more than four years of research before he started working on the project.  He studied thousands of pictures of the stolen images before deciding on the ones that would be a part of the museum.

“We decided on the basis of the sculpture’s value and artwork,” he said of the selection process.

Of the 50 sculptures, 10 have been completed so far and seven more in their final stages. Puri said his team is trying to finish the stone sculptures first before starting on the metal ones.

“We want to finish the tough ones first,” he said as he spoke of the difficulties of replicating centuries old sculptures.

And especially when the artists are crafting the sculptures on the basis of photographs, it becomes even tougher.

“It’s difficult to produce a three-dimensional artwork from a one-dimensional [photo],” Puri said.

Of the completed replicas include the Uma Maheshor from the 8th Century, Female Devotee from the 7th Century and the 18th Century Female Divinity sculpture, among others.

The sculptures, until the Museum of Stolen Arts is ready, will be a part of the Heritage Gallery  housed at the Namuna Ghar in Bhaktapur.

Puri said that his team will try to represent the sculptures in a way that “touches every Nepali’s heart.”

“The Museum of Stolen Art will showcase what we have lost and also incite the feeling of what we should do to preserve what we have now,” Puri said.

Heritage Gallery opens from 10 am to 5 pm. For more information, call 6613197.

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